At the entryway, we were greeted by classic cars against a backdrop of eye-catching wallpaper designed from the museum’s memorabilia of old road maps and auto-related advertisements. The cars include the innovative 1948 Studebaker Commander and a 1933 Plymouth vintage racecar rebuilt as a California hot rod.
The museum, which opened last year, takes you through the history of the automobile via an extraordinary collection amassed by John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel, and his family.
Our first stop was at the Open Road Theater, where we watched an introductory six-minute film narrated by Walter Cronkite.
The centerpiece of this 30,000-square-foot museum is a timeline showing the innovations and evolution of the automobile industry. The cars are displayed in a series of themed galleries, and there are educational and interactive displays exploring the automobile and its place in American industry, pop culture and our lives.
In the early 1900s, Henry Ford made the automobile available for the everyday American with the Model T Ford or Tin Lizzy as she was affectionately called. And you could get it in your favorite color…as long as it was black! The Model T is represented at the museum with a 1914 Runabout and a 1913 Town Car, which sold for $850. Far more expensive were a 1928 Cadillac Sport Phaeton convertible, and a beautiful 1913 Pierce-Arrow.
At the museum, you will learn that one power source of early-day automobiles was steam and another was electricity. But the steam engine was heavy and you had to tend the fire to make it go, and the electric engine required charging a battery and didn’t go very far. So, automakers turned to the gasoline engine. It was smaller and more efficient and the fuel was cheap and plentiful (5 cents a barrel back then).
During the Roaring ‘20s people had money to spare and a hunger for a good time, and the automobiles became more elaborate. At the museum, you can see cars that movie stars stepped from as cameras flashed and crowds cheered. One standout is a 1930 Duesenberg, once the ultimate status symbol and still an object of beauty.
The museum’s muscle car gallery takes us to another era, of cruising the main street, stopping at a drive-in restaurant for a milk shake or cherry coke, and going to the drive-in theater to see the new movie with Frankie and Annette. You can relive those times while gazing at a Pontiac GTO, Oldsmobile 4-4-2, Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang.
Then came the Hot Rod era of bigger engines and smaller cars, where you chop the top, strip, gut and guide, and where no two were the same. One of the beauties on display is a 1934 Ford Custom Coupe, some hot rodder’s dream come true.
A special feature of the museum is the one-of-a-kind 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 dream car designed by Harley Earl. It is one of the finest examples of an automotive design or concept car to emerge from the post-war era, and was purchased at a classic car auction by John Hendricks for $3.24 million.
Many displays of automobile memorabilia, including oil cans, tools, pumps and a great selection of signs and pictures, are found throughout the museum. Encased in glass and framed is a map display titled “The Art of the Open Road.”
The museum is located in Gateway, a small Colorado town that was once home to people working in uranium mines, and is now a resort destination in the heart of the red rock canyon country of Western Colorado. The breathtaking landscape is full of majestic buttes, mesas and winding roads as you travel along on the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway.
The museum, located at 43224 Highway 141, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., with the last admission being at 5 p.m. There is plenty of RV parking. For museum information, call (970) 931-2895 or visit www.gatewaymuseum.com. You can learn about the Gateway area and the Gateway Canyons Resort at www.gatewaycanyons.com.
Barbara and Mike Oliver live in Grand Junction, Colorado.